June is Pride month, a time for the LGBTQ+ community to celebrate their culture and history.  

The Pride movement began with the Stonewall Riots, which occurred on June 28, 1969. In the 52 years since the Riots, Pride has grown and evolved far beyond parades and protests.  

In this digital exclusive, Executive Producer Tony Dunne gets a lesson on the legacy and impact of Pride from historian Kevin Henderson. 

Read the full transcript:

Zydalis Bauer, Connecting Point: June is Pride Month, a time for the LGBTQ+ community to celebrate their culture and history.

The Pride Movement began with the Stonewall Riots 52 years ago this June 28th. But since then, it has grown and evolved far beyond parades and protests.

In this digital exclusive, Executive Producer Tony Dunne gets a lesson on the legacy and impact of Pride from historian Kevin Henderson.

Kevin Henderson, Pride Historian: Well, the origin of Pride in America starts with the Stonewall Riots. And the Stonewall Riots happened the night of June 27, early morning of June 28th in 1969.

Now, the Stonewall Riots, sometimes called the Stonewall Uprising, was three days of riots against police violence that happened in the Greenwich Village of New York City. And it began when police began raiding the gay bar, the Stonewall Inn.

The Stonewall Inn was a gay bar that catered to a lower class clientele of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people. And there were laws on the books in New York City at the time that forbade cross-dressing. And often when police would come in, they would line up anybody who was wearing clothes of the opposite sex. So drag queens, transgender people were often targeted.

And if you were found to be wearing more than one article of clothing of the opposite sex, you often put in the paddy wagon and taken away. This particular night in June, the patrons of the Stonewall Inn fought back. They started throwing coins and rocks at the police.

The police became barricaded inside the bar and local residents, because there was a large population of gay people who lived in the Greenwich Village, you know, barricaded the police in and there was a series of confrontations over three days.

A year later, the Gay Liberation Front, along with other groups, were looking for a way to commemorate the Stonewall Riots. Now, there were other riots and uprisings, police confrontations, across the United States before 1969. But the Stonewall Riots had gotten the most press, you know, news had circulated across the United States about them.

Tony Dunne, Executive Producer: It was a turning point.

Kevin Henderson: It was a turning point, but a turning point in a way that wouldn’t have happened unless people said, “OK, let’s make this a turning point.”

So, oftentimes gay history is talked about kind of pre- and post-Stonewall. But we have to remember, too, that a lot of effort that first Pride March or Pride Parade, was made to to commemorate it and do something that hadn’t really been done before.

So the Gay Liberation Front organized this march. They called other cities and said, “hey, do you guys want to do this with us? Will you commemorate this event with us in a particular way?”

And that first Pride March happened in 1970, and became an annual ritual that still continues today.

Tony Dunne: So today, how important is the concept of Pride to the LGBTQ community?

Kevin Henderson: It’s really important. You know, the word Pride itself was used because there is so much shame around sexuality, particularly gay, lesbian, bisexual, and other kinds of alternative sexualities. And that shame certainly has not gone away.

So, Pride is an important way of saying we’re not going to be ashamed anymore of who we are, that there’s a place for us in larger society. But Pride also is not just about kind of throwing off shame or a response to larger society or larger heterosexual society. But it’s also the way in which gay people, gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender people conduct internal politics.

So, every year at Pride, there’s also not only protests, you know, against the Pride parade and a response against that by conservatives or anti-LGBT forces. But, every year there are also all kinds of internal conflicts and internal protests because Pride is also display and a making of what it means to be gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender.

Tony Dunne: So America’s perception of and engagement with the LGBTQ community has changed, certainly in the 50 years since Stonewall.

How have celebrations and expressions of Pride changed along with it over the past 50 years?

Kevin Henderson: Right, that’s a good question. Well, one thing that is really clear is that the early years, starting in 1970 of the Gay Pride March, was organized by a set of radicals who were very much concentrated, not only fighting homophobia, but also were very concentrated on fighting war, imperialism, racism, and sexism.

So, the Gay Liberation Front was inspired by other radical movements that were being formed in the late 60s, early 70s, like the Black Panthers, like national liberation fronts in North Africa and Vietnam. Many of them were inspired by the Anti-war Movement against Vietnam. And so, there was a strong sense of radicality the first few years of the parade.

People often remark that Pride parades take on a more celebratory tone, but that is also a source of conflict.

Every year in New York, for example, there’s a big question: Is this a march or is this a parade? And what’s the difference between a march and a parade? Can a parade be a protest? Can a march be celebratory?

One of the things that gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people do is contest binary categories, contest boundaries. And so one of the things that the Pride Parade does is kind of blur the lines between a political march and a parade that might be thought of as merely a celebration.

Tony Dunne: Would you call Pride a uniquely American institution? Has it been exported overseas or is it, you know, did the seed certainly start here, if so, if it has moved overseas?

Kevin Henderson: Right. Pride quickly, actually, moved overseas. And Stonewall is also the origin point for other kinds of Pride parades.

So, in Germany, for example, many of the Pride parades are called Christopher Street parades because the Stonewall Inn is on Christopher Street. So, in Europe and other parts of the world, Stonewall is still the reference point, and their Pride parades largely happen in June.

Tony Dunne: Has pride been commercialized at all? Is it taken on a commercial aspect? And if so, is that a good or bad thing?

Kevin Henderson: That’s another really good question. Pride certainly has been accused of becoming overly commercialized, This year, in particular, it seems there has been an explosion of rainbows everywhere we go from Target, entire shopping malls lined with rainbows, and certainly if you go to a Pride parade, there’s many corporations that are sponsoring floats.

And even in some cities, corporations have sponsored the naming of the parade itself. And this has led to a number of internal debates, protests, and contests.

So, for example, last year in Pittsburgh, the Pride Parade was sponsored by the fracking company EQT, which does not stand for quality, but again is a fracking company. And many gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender activists said, “you know, why is a company that is degrading the environment, sponsoring a Pride parade?” And so, they held an alternative march that did not include any kinds of corporations.

We’ve also seen this happen over the years in New York City. So, this year in New York City, there’s a group called the Reclaim Pride Coalition, which is hosting an alternative march that does not include any corporations, and it’s a direct protest against the corporatization of pride.

Tony Dunne: So clearly, in the past 50 years, America’s acceptance of LGBTQ folk has grown exponentially. I mean, there is a vast difference between the way things are now and the way they used to be.

As you mentioned, there are still strides to go, as well. But what would you say — has Pride, is it still as important now as it was in the past?

Kevin Henderson: Absolutely. It’s important now as in the past. And partly, as I said before, it’s because gay pride as a ritualized event is a way in which gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender people come not only to celebrate themselves, to make a statement to larger society, but also to engage in conflict among themselves, right?

To say “who are we, where are we going?” “Who do we want to be?” “Do we want gay, lesbian, transgender, bisexual identity to be a consumer identity?” “Should it be a more radical kind of identity?” “Who’s included, who’s not included?” “What kind of issues are important to us?”

And Pride is our time to talk about these things, to debate them, and enact them through the ritual of the parade.